Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect

As over breakfast , I switched on the television for the morning news, the opening headline was about the Symbiosis University in Pune has unilaterally gone ahead and decided to implement an OBC quota in its courses, without waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on the matter. As the TV screen came alive, the anchor was interviewing some aspiring students of the university on their views. One of them was heard saying that ”Reservation must be provided on the basis of scientific measures. 


It is not clear what the smooth talking student meant by “scientific measures”. Sociological measures, yes, anthropological measures, yes, but scientific measures? Since when the fissures and the cracks in society manifested themselves along scientific lines. 


When students are saying that they want reservations to be made on the basis of ‘scientific measures”, what they are really saying is that that measurable indicators like marks secured should be the basis and that meritocracy should rule. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with it, it looks fair and just. Except that it is a good question as to what is the scientific measure of excellence because presumably that is the elusive Holy Grail that every one is seeking. When St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, decides to lower the cut off marks to accommodate Dalit Christians, they hasten to assure every one that academic standards will not be diluted. When Symbiosis students file a petition in the Supreme Court, they take the same route – that by increasing reservations, academic standards would be diluted. 


That leads to the inescapable conclusion that academic standards are all about scoring high marks and the higher the better. So you have students getting ninety five percent or ninety six or ninety seven percent marks. You hear of students getting into depression because they got a few decimal points less than the fellow in the next seat. Which makes people like me who got only seventy five percent or so wonder if these guys and girls are all smart geniuses or what and if so, why we aren’t winning all these Nobel Prizes that they give out every year. This article here is not taking a stand on reservations – for or against. The matter is as they say sub judice. But this piece does take a look at defining what excellence is though because the aim of all education is the pursuit of excellence or so it should be. 


Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi has dared to question the prevailing paradigm in education that marks are every thing. They have discovered that the fact that students who scored 100 or 98 percent in English did not necessarily reflect one’s knowledge and ability to grasp, understand and critically analyze literature. And to get the “best”, Lady Shri Ram (LSR) college, has lowered its eligibility criteria from last year’s 75 per cent to 70 per cent in English. Similar eligibility condition has been set for journalism honors course. 
Among other established institutions, the Armed Forces had always a broader definition of merit and excellence. Though perhaps a bit blemished today, still it was and is an enshrined principle that is sacrosanct to the army that a military officer is somehow a gentleman, too. And it was in line with that concept, that the Army Act actually laid down penalties “for conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman.” 

I do not know whether reservations are good or bad, who should have it and who should not, how much reservations should there be, should the creamy layer be excluded or not. All that I will wait for the Supreme Court to tell me as millions of students and their families in India are doing. But in the mean while, I do know one thing that marks scored in a robotically conducted examination and aided by cram camps like the ones in Kota and else where are no measure of excellence in education. The colonial army definition of an officer and a gentleman, adapted and attuned for today may be a far better one. 

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